Philanthropy Ohio has an established custom to publish parting thoughts from retiring members. As I conclude 25 years of work at the George Gund Foundation on September 3, it is now my turn to say goodbye.
Involvement with Philanthropy Ohio has been a consistent thread running through my entire career at Gund. Lucky for me, both CEOs I’ve worked for – David Bergholz and David Abbott – encouraged staff to actively participate.
I go back far enough to remember the separate and sometimes competing regional associations headquartered in Columbus and Cleveland. I’m convinced our field is much stronger and better served by our coming together and maintaining one, statewide organization.
When I started at Gund, philanthropic support for public policy advocacy and program-related investing were novel, even controversial. Thanks in part to the opportunities for networking and shared learning provided by our regional association, both are now mainstream in Ohio. Hopefully, Philanthropy Ohio will continue its critical role of fostering the consideration of the latest ideas and adoption of best practices for years to come.
Like most folks involved in Philanthropy Ohio, I started by volunteering for committee work. My very favorite assignments involved planning for annual conferences – choosing conference themes, landing the right keynote speakers, arranging session panels and site visits. In 2012, I started board service that ran through 2020. I have learned a tremendous amount about our state – its economy, politics, community needs and how these shaped my work at Gund – through my participation in Philanthropy Ohio. So others can benefit as I have, I urge our organization to maintain easy entry for active involvement and further open paths to leadership and recognition of achievement.
I recognize that our association must continually nurture our strong presence in the “3Cs” of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. These places are where the bulk of our members and our largest philanthropies are located. But over the years, I’ve learned how vitally important it is for Philanthropy Ohio to proactively draw involvement and learn from members in every part of our state. Years ago, the Promotion of Philanthropy Initiative greatly assisted in development of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio and encouraged growth of other philanthropic efforts in the southeast quadrant of our state. Are there portions of Ohio that could benefit from such attention today? During my years on the board, we made a determined effort to meet outside the 3Cs. Travel to the Hocking Hills, Toledo, Springfield, Newark and Mansfield – where we were hosted by local foundations and met with nonprofit leaders in each place – was both highly instructive and great fun. I urge my successors to do more of this.
While geographic balance remains important, I believe that it is absolutely critical for us to strive for racial and gender diversity. Philanthropy Ohio has enthusiastically embraced this as a core value. Yet, in my decades of experience, I have found that the process is never done; building trusting, inclusive relationships take consistent effort. We must make room for next-generation leaders within our ranks to succeed Michael Shinn in providing steady leadership in this essential work. I pray that we also retain our current sense of urgency regarding race and gender.
Organized philanthropy is playing an essential role in convening our communities and stewarding resources gathered to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. I believe that the rapid response demonstrates the overall vitality of our sector. Yet, a trusted colleague recently shared the sobering observation that the effectiveness of the response has varied from community to community depending on the depth of in-place nonprofit infrastructure. I sense that there are profound insights from our COVID-19 experiences – lessons very much related to our pursuit of racial justice and geographic diversity – waiting to be unpacked and analyzed by our members across the state.
As I leave my post at Gund, I am heartened by the passion and competence of my staff colleagues who will carry on the work. Similarly, I see a deep pool of rising talent across the field of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector of our state.
I have been most fortunate to work these many years at the George Gund Foundation and to be active with Philanthropy Ohio. For these things and this opportunity to share my parting thoughts, I will always be grateful.
Robert Jaquay has been Associate Director of the George Gund Foundation since 1996 and will be succeeded on September 3 by his colleague Ann Mullin. Bob chaired the Philanthropy Ohio Board during 2017 and 2018.